Over the years various issues have developed in the world. Things that were once clear cut as either morally wrong or right, have become very contentious. Various philosophers have studied and proposed different ideas on the subject of morality. Kant’s moral philosophy holds that the final result of an action has no value; the value of an action lies on the motivation behind it (Kant, 3). Kant argued that there exists an unconditional and absolute requirement that all other moral obligations are based on.
In order for one to uphold the highest moral law, his or her actions must conform to this requirement which he termed as the categorical imperative (Kant, 15). Kant’s ideology can however be seen as too simplistic when dealing with the modern society characterized by actions that cannot be easily categorized as morally right or wrong; those that may be termed as morally ambiguous. Kant, a German philosopher, undertook a study to find the ultimate principle on morality. Kant identified three maxims that would enable one to identify morally right or wrong actions. The first maxim states that every person should act in such a manner that the action would be the right action for other people in similar situations (Kant, 14). The second maxim states that an action is morally right if it treat others not as a means to an end but as an end in themselves (Kant, 29). The final maxim is a summation of the first two and it states that a moral action occurs when one acts as if his actions were setting a universal law that could be used by others under the same circumstances (Kant, 24).
When Kant was developing his moral philosophy, the society was mainly religious and culture played a big part in shaping how people acted. The contemporary society is however less governed by religion or culture and science (logic) plays a big part on how people make decisions or act. Actions that were previously termed morally inappropriate are under fire with people trying to understand what makes an action morally right or wrong. Kant’s categorical imperative has three formulations that govern all moral action. These formulations can be summed up by the universality principle that states that all actions should be carried out in such a manner that they become universal laws without contradiction (Kant, 30). This formulation in itself is too simplistic for the complicated modern society that we live in. One contentious issue in modern societies has been that of abortion. According to the requirements of categorical imperative, it would be morally wrong for a woman to carry out an abortion.
Kant argues that the moral value of an action is not based on its results but on its underlying principle and such action should be such that it can be universally adopted. As such, abortion which is mainly carried out to preserve the happiness, well-being or priorities of the woman, goes against this formulation (Denis, 548). Kant also puts forward the principles of good will and duty. According to Kant, good will is that will that is derived from moral laws and has no qualifications (Kant, 5). Kant argued that the expected results of an action are morally neutral and not important when considering morality. He added that good will is the only basis that the value of morality can be recognized. Kant also argued that duty determines whether an action is moral right or wrong.
Kant argued that since the moral value of an action does not derive from the expected results, it must then be derived from the principle under which the action is carried out regardless of personal desires or surrounding circumstances (Kant, 7). It is the basic human duty to populate the world and ensure the continuity of life. Abortion goes against this duty thus it must be considered morally wrong. Modern medicine has enabled deformities and complications to be identified before birth. Kant’s argument is ineffective as it would be cruel to give birth to a child who will suffer constantly or to put the life of the mother in jeopardy due to pregnancy complications (Denis, 560). Kant’s morality principle is too simplistic and fails to take into account circumstances that have developed in the contemporary societies.
Decision making in modern societies is carried out with regards to a multi-cultured society as a whole. Simplistic ground rules cannot effectively cover all situations under which an action may be undertaken. Abortion is an action involving two parties, the agent and the fetus. The fetus cannot be deemed a rational being hence Kant may propose that laws of morality do not apply to it. However, the fetus is a part of the continuity of life and according to instinct (nature), child birth is a duty common to all. It is thus morally wrong to carry out an abortion as it goes against this duty. Kant’s philosophy cannot cover all aspects found in many contentious issues of the modern world hence it has no place in contemporary society.
“Abortion and Kant’s Formula of Universal Law.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 37.4 (2007): 547-580 Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals.
Trans. Jonathan Bennet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995